The new Big 12 football format calls for nine conference games. Which means just three non-conference games. I thought, uh-oh. There’s going to be a run on more rum-dum games.
One more conference game was all the excuse football coaches need to dumb down their schedules. But amazingly, it hasn’t happened. Big 12 non-conference schedules in 2011 are solid, by the 21st-century standards of college football.
Every Big 12 team except Texas Tech plays at least one really good non-conference game, and even the Red Raiders play Nevada in Lubbock. Not a horrible game.
Iowa State (Iowa, at Connecticut) and Texas (Brigham Young, at UCLA) both play two really good non-conference games. OU plays a world-class game at Florida State. Missouri plays at Arizona State. Baylor hosts TCU. OSU hosts Arizona. Kansas goes to Georgia Tech. Kansas State goes to Miami. Texas A&M plays Arkansas on a neutral field.
And while the Big 12 hasn’t skimped on marquee games, it hasn’t loaded up with weaklings on the other end. Last year, the Big 12 teams played eight Division I-AA opponents, out of 48 non-conference games. That’s 16.7 percent. This year, Big 12 teams are playing six Division I-AA opponents, out of 30 non-conference games. That’s 20 percent.
I’ll be happy when that percentage number is in single digits, but let’s take what we can get for now.
So here are the annual rankings of Big 12 non-conference schedules:
1. Texas: Rice, BYU, at UCLA. It’s rare for a major power to schedule two losable games out of three, but that’s what the Longhorns have done. Even if UT hadn’t fallen on hard times, this would have been a big-time schedule. With problems at quarterback and beyond, this is an imposing schedule. Two years ago, BYU came to the Lone Star State and upset OU. The last time Texas played UCLA (in Austin), the Longhorns got rolled.
2. Oklahoma: Tulsa, at Florida State, Ball State. The enormity of the OU-FSU game is such that if someone wants to rank the Sooner schedule No. 1, I wouldn’t argue much. Sooners-Seminoles clearly is the non-conference game of the year in both the Big 12 and the ACC. I went with Texas No. 1 because the Longhorns have two losable games. The Sooners do not.
3. Iowa State: Northern Iowa, Iowa, at Connecticut: Just like Texas, the Cyclones have scheduled two excellent foes. The Hawkeyes are usually a load, not to mention a hated rival, and UConn won the Big East last season. The only knock against this schedule is the presence of I-AA Northern Iowa, and even that’s not awful. The in-state Panthers usually play Iowa State and Iowa tough.
4. Texas A&M: SMU, Idaho, Arkansas at Arlington. The ascension of SMU into a decent program helps this schedule. Idaho isn’t much (one winning season this century), but the Razorbacks at JerryWorld is a total load.
5. Missouri: Miami-Ohio, at Arizona State, Western Illinois. That Arizona State game, an ESPN Friday night affair, is a keeper. Slim pickings after that.
6. Baylor: TCU, Stephen F. Austin, at Rice. It’s an intrastate non-conference schedule; the home game against the Horned Frogs is huge for Baylor.
7. Oklahoma State: Louisiana-Lafayette, Arizona, at Tulsa. Not a lot of difference between the schedules of OSU, Mizzou and Baylor. Cowboys’ marquee game isn’t as glamorous, but their secondary games are better,
8. Kansas: McNeese State, Northern Illinois, at Georgia Tech. Similar schedule to K-State; Jayhawks get the edge because Northern Illinois is a much better Mid-American Conference program than is Kent State.
9. Kansas State: Eastern Kentucky, Kent State, at Miami. Pains me to rank Bill Snyder this low in a year in which he’s playing the U. in Miami. But the ranking is legit. Kent State is a low mid-major, and Eastern Kentucky is a non-descript I-AA foe.
10. Texas Tech: Texas State, at New Mexico, Nevada. I like a lot of things about Tech football. Tough. Consistent. Entertaining. But scheduling philosophy? Not so much.